Technical experts frequently prescribe simple technical ‘solutions’ to complex social problems. In this article, the authors describe an experimental project which was designed to increase the take-up of means-tested benefits. The project incorporated a computer-based information system which provided individuals who supplied details of their financial and other household circumstances with personalized information about their entitlement to a wide range of benefits. Although the project was a technical success, it made little impact on take-up rates. In attempting to explain why this should have been so, the authors point to the complexity of the problems involved and advocate the need to examine and simplify existing administrative procedures at the same time as investigating the potential of computerization, rather than assuming that a technical device can of itself side-step the problems. They also point out that administrative simplification is itself no easy task and is fraught with political and organizational problems.
* An earlier draft of this article was presented to ‘Computing and People '76’, a conference on human factors in computing, held from 20 to 22 December 1976 at Leicester Polytechnic (proceedings to appear).
† Lecturer, Department of Social Administration, University of Edinburgh.
‡ SSRC Fellow, Department of Social Administration, University of Edinburgh.